When I get a massage (which I do regularly as part of my personal recipe for wellbeing), I am usually asked how strong I want the massage – light, medium or hard.
Sometimes, my neck or back is so stiff I need hard – I need to push through any temporary pain and discomfort, be challenged and quite literally stretched to my limits. The reward is feeling looser, more limber and basically just great.
Other times, I don’t mind if there is not much progress in releasing specific knots, aches or pains, I simply want to relax and unwind. Then I ask for light.
The point is that I have a choice and that choice sets the tone of the entire session or course of sessions working to a specific goal.
‘How Tough Would You Like Your Coaching?’
This is a question that is rarely asked because so may coaches train and then practice within a default paradigm of ‘light coaching’. Everything is filtered though a lens of ‘make sure I don’t do therapy’, ‘make sure I don’t tell them what to do’, ‘make sure I don’t upset them’, ‘make sure they come back next week and pay my invoice’.
When I’ve watched or listened to such coaches struggling with a client, you can see this effect in action. The client states some ridiculously immature or illogical conclusion about their current situation and the practitioner has to pause and stumble over their words to compose and then sugarcoat a response.
“Okay, that’s one way of looking at it, but maybe, you could approach the situation, possibly, maybe, in a different way.”
The pause occurs because the practitioner initially thinks something along the lines of, “Oh, for f**k sake, grow up and just do it”. This is their intuitive response but then all their training and the paradigm of ‘keep it light, keep it cosy’ makes them say something different. They water it down.
Intuitive and Authentic
Frank Farrelly, the godfather of Provocative Therapy (he literally wrote the book on it – great book, check it out), talked about how his sessions got better when he started saying what he was really thinking.
As much as we talk about ‘open and honest’ practice, too many sessions start and then stay in a form of role play, which is in essence inauthentic. The practitioner tries to help the client whilst not really saying what they are thinking and the client attempts to make changes despite being allowed to stay operating within unsupportive paradigms.
In fact, such sessions will tend to improve when the rapport between practitioner and client grows to the point that the former can be more daring in the things they say. The coaching relationship then benefits massively from this shift.
A Free Pad and Pen With Every Session
When I am coaching people to re-appraise play in their life (the subject of my book The Play Paradigm), it’s interesting how people often know EXACTLY what would make them happy and balanced, they are just not doing it.
My all-time favourite, which has occurred more times than I can even remember during in-person sessions, goes like this…
I explain The Play Paradigm concept and the client agrees that they don’t have enough healthy play (and a lot of their bad habits are just ways of responding to this deficit). They initially cannot think of what healthy play would be (“I don’t know”, “I don’t have any”, etc), but then, after some prompting, something emerges – in this example, writing.
Writing is expressed by the client as a form of genuine play for them. They get lost it in, it makes them feel good, it’s what they intuitively need to do.
Now, at this point we have identified something they really have to do. But many coaches will simply say, “Okay, so could you do more writing?” Of course, the client will agree, but they will absolutely then leave and not do it. Even if it is suggested as possible homework, it is often suggested in such a gentle, permissive way that it is easily forgotten. Did you always remember to do your homework at school?
When people tell me writing is the play they need, but they are not doing, I will never ask if they could write again soon. I tell them to start writing TODAY.
I would usually pull out a blank pad of paper from my drawer, slap it on the desk and say something like, “Here you go. Oh, you need a pen too? Here have this one. [the one in my hand!] Right that’s all you need. Now, what did you have planned post-session? Nothing? Well, here is a fiver, go get coffee on me and go write!”
The look on their face is usually priceless and often there is a physical recoiling from the pad and pen I’ve thrown on the desk in front of them. Then comes the excuses, “Oh I can’t write today”, “I was planning to start on holiday in Paris”, “I need an expensive Moleskin jotter”, etc.
I will calmly de-construct every aspect of this type of bulls**t until we are quickly left with the real reason(s) they ‘cannot’ do it. Nine times out of ten it’s a blend of perfectionism and procrastination. So then we deal with that – breaking old paradigms down in the session consciously and providing them with a tailored hypnotic audio to support the new behaviours subconsciously.
The client has been robustly provoked into confronting what is really ‘holding them back’. This is my approach to provocative coaching in action.
It’s All About Choice
I believe every client is different and there is a place for every style of coaching. I just also believe the default style of most coaches is often poor value for clients who want more direct, straight-talking and provocative coaching.
I developed my style so people who wanted the coaching equivalent of the medium to hard massage could get what they both want and need from the very first session.
The goal is truly authentic coaching – a space where the coach is free to provoke the client into making the changes they desire.
If you want it slower, lighter and gentler, then we can of course work that way or you can work with other coaches who specialise in that style.